Friday, May 7, 2010

Red Hero: Chapter 5

So, one of the primary critiques I've gotten so far is that these chapter posts may be a little too long. As a result I'm experimenting today with a shortened version (about half as long). Going forward I'll try breaking each succeeding chapter into halves and see if that helps make the story more readable in a blog format. For those of you catching up, you can checkout the previous chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4. Hope everyone has a great weekend and a fun Mother's Day!


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House of Orange


Maelstrom Valkyrie

            Altitude: Space
            Reserves: Unknown (currently under tow)
            Speed: 3 hyper-knots
            Location: Deep Space (between Asteroid Belt and Jupiter)


The mutiny begins today.
            For two weeks you’ve helped bring the maelstrom’s systems back online, turning wrenches, rebooting panels, carrying over foodstuffs from the Takara. Pushing Venusian bodies out the airlock. The Blight proved fatal in every instance. Except possibly for the one who had jettisoned in an escape pod. These off-worlders, you think to yourself, they come from such clean, antiseptic, sterilized planets. Wouldn’t last a day in a Martian encampment in the open field without vaccinations and shots.
            Think of all the times you’d spent in the open air back in Memphis. Going on hikes as a kid, listening to your echoes in the canyon walls, sometimes trekking all the way down to Piraeus. A tiny port on the Hellas Basin, from there you’d sail on the Aegean, crewing on clippers as a summer job, sometimes fishing, sometimes transporting cargo. You imagined yourself like your ancestors back in the days of Ulysses, glimpsing knots of twisted olive trees that grew along the crumbling coastline. Those were the days.
You’re opening crates in the hallways right now. Your immunity to the Blight has ensured you daily access to the stealth-cruiser. The three Reds in sickbay also work with you, their experience on campaign during the war also makes them resistant to the disease. In only two weeks their flesh grafted completely over their new mechanical limbs. These Europan doctors really know their stuff you think to yourself. On Mars amputees simply had to do without. You vaguely recall first learning the Martians’ names by reading their sickbed placards. They labor beside you now, hauling heavy containers labeled HMS Takara: Rations. A pair of lanky, buzz-cut men, Tang and Dao, and a stout, tan-faced redhead, Sioux. Their newly grown arms and legs still appear noticeable, the freshly developed muscular tissues bulking and firm from recent use. Apparently, these replacement limbs could grow in stronger than their natural counterparts.
            The Shogun Miranda had deployed the trio claiming exercise was good for their refurbished muscles. Yesterday, her medics developed an antigen to counteract any lingering contagion aboard the Valkyrie, but the Shogun forbid any of her crew to use it, instead opting to test it on herself first. Only her bodyguard, Maori had disobeyed. The two of them now inspect the last supplies brought over from their vessel, helmets off, their lungs clearly adjusting to the maelstrom’s air filters with no ill effect. Only the six of them are now on board, 4 Reds and 2 Whites. Good enough odds as they’ll ever be you think to yourself.
            The three other Martians are already in on the plan and in position. Tang and Dao cover the exit, pretending to dawdle with the last sealed crates beside the airlock. Sioux bottlenecks the corridor to Engineering on one side as she works with a wrench; you block the route to the bridge while at a panel workstation. All three Martians had been regular militia, only seen a few battles, but enough to have lost friends and lost their homes. They had immediately agreed to your plan when you suggested it to each one in private a few days ago. Your status as one of the last CarbiƱeros already has them in awe of you. You glance at each of them from the corner of your eye. Miranda and Maori don’t even notice, their attention focusing solely on a manifest list of the inventory scattered throughout the corridor.
            You remove your revolver, cocking the gun a few paces from Maori and Miranda.
            I’m sorry ma’am, you start, but you better put your pressure suits back on.
            What? Miranda begins. Red, what are you doing?
            Call me Ares, Captain Geronimo Ares now.
            Captain?! Maori growls, swiftly unsheathing his blade. Mistress let me lock up this Red scorpion in the brig where he belongs.
            Sioux steps forward now, hefting a large monkey-wrench in her hand. Dao unsheathes a bowie knife and brandishes a pipe of scrap metal. Tang blocks the airlock beside him, revealing a sawed-off from beneath his vest. Miranda and Maori, with his sword drawn, rapidly discern this encirclement. Leave it to these brigands to conceal arms from us, the bodyguard seethes. I warned you mistress, treacherous by nature.
            Miranda, you begin.
            Shogun to you, Maori butts in.
            You saved my life back in the Belt you continue without hindrance from her bodyguard. Your people healed my fellow compatriots here, and for that I’m grateful. But this is a vessel of our enemy, and so long as our home world remains occupied those of us still free will continue to resist and remain free. Now you must go.
            Just because you want to commandeer the most powerful starship in the system doesn’t mean you can she replies with a hand on her hip. The only reason this vessel moves at all is because the Takara is towing her, albeit slowly. Command functions on this cruiser still remain locked-out to us.
            Not anymore you grin. Engines! you shout out commandingly.
            The whir of machinery chugs through the deck plating beneath your feet, the pumping hum from the stern corridor and the electric buzz of circuitry vibrates throughout the ship. Maori leans towards the nearest panel. They have full power he remarks with astonishment. A feeling of elation pricks the hairs along the nape of your neck as the vessel comes to life. You raise your voice once more with luster. 
            Helm. Navigation. Weapons!
            Your voice commands register on displays throughout the ship. Peering down the hallway towards the bridge you see the piloting controls light up and the lowering periscope for warhead control. Venusian codes are virtually impregnable, the Shogun begins. How did you gain command control?
            You simply reply with a wink. Wouldn’t believe you if you told her anyhow.
            Took me almost two weeks, you smile. We have no quarrel with you, your voice growing serious again, but our enemies are out there and we aim to fight back.
Your stubbornness is almost admirable the Shogun replies unmoving. But I have trusted you at great personal risk to both myself and my people. I am not leaving.
She stands directly before your gun unflinching, her own sword not even drawn. You crease your brows, unable to hide your befuddlement at her resolve. Maori raises his voice, Madam we must depart from these barbarians he pleads. Casually, but with great composure Miranda activates her wrist-communicator.
Shogun to HMS Takara she begins.
She’s trying to warn her ship Sioux steps forward with her large wrench in hand.
Miranda raises her palm and Sioux halts. Takara here, a young ensign’s voice replies on the com. We’re reading a power surge and weapon displays onboard the maelstrom, do you require assistance mistress Shogun?
Lay in a course for Europa, the Shogun commands. Master Maori and I will remain aboard the Valkyrie and rendezvous again in a few weeks. In cooperation with the Reds we are now in full control of the maelstrom.
Mistress, you want us to leave you here? the youth’s voice questions.
Ensign Kobiashi, your Shogun has just given you a direct order. Take the Takara home, and await further instructions there. The ensign replies in the affirmative. Over and out Miranda concludes.
What are you doing? Dao demands from beside the airlock, still held at bay by the reach of Maori’s large katana.
We will crew with you, not as combatants, but as observers Miranda begins, her voice brooking no tolerance for argument. Seeing as you have already assumed command you may determine our course, but we will rendezvous with the Takara sometime this month in Europan orbit. Should we fail to make this meeting I can assure you half the Europan fleet will scour the system looking for us.
Still wanting to introduce your Holy Mother to some real Martians? you reply.
Indeed the Shogun replies. You need a navigator as I doubt any of you have deep space experience with large vessels, so to make sure we don’t jump into a moon or an asteroid I will perform this function while aboard.
My lady, Maori whispers to his Shogun. This plan is too much a risk to your person. Surely someone else…
Maori, Miranda begins in a whisper you can still hear. This is the rarest vessel ever constructed, I’ve never seen a stealth ship up close; almost no one has. We don’t even know what it’s composed of. This is a rare opportunity. This technology could benefit our entire people. And with such a warship clearly in Red hands we can either risk possible animosity with an undetectable warship that could launch warheads at Londinium itself without ever being detected or we could make a potential ally out of these people instead.
After a pause, her bodyguard slowly nods his head in submission to his Shogun. 
Still kind of creepy having a ninja on this boat, Tang points at Maori with his small shotgun.
Maori’s a good cook Miranda smiles at you. You grin back.
Fine, we vote you begin. Crew agrees, then you sign our round robin. Reluctant, but unanimously they add their names to the scrap of paper in ink. Geronimo Ares. Jadzia Sioux. Buford Tang. Kropotkin Dao. Shogun Miranda. Master Maori.
The Bushido bodyguard lightly cuts his palm with his katana before wiping it clean and returning it to the scabbard. Tang and Dao give twin wide-eyed expressions. Maori briefly states that once his sword is fully unsheathed it must always draw blood. To do otherwise would be dishonorable.
So where we going? Tang asks, tucking his sawed-off into his belt.
You glance round at the others, holstering you revolver. Into the dens of our enemies you begin. But first we’re going to need a bigger crew.